Council Passes Bill Requiring Stats About Rikers Solitary Confinement

Rikers Island. (Photo: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Rikers Island. (Photo: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

The City Council overwhelmingly passed a bill this afternoon that will require far more public information about the people who are placed in solitary confinement at city jails.

The bill, sponsored by Councilman Daniel Dromm, will compel the Department of Correction and Department of Health to post quarterly reports regarding punitive segregation–known colloquially as solitary confinement–and the type of people who are punished and why.

“Brutality at Rikers Island has been well documented,” Mr. Dromm said. “We are enacting legislation aimed at clearly sending a message that we will no longer tolerate the violation of anyone’s constitutional rights.”

The quarterly reports will disclose statistics on the following: the number of inmates housed in solitary; their age, race and gender; length of stay; whether they’ve been injured, attempted or committed suicide while segregated; whether they were sexually or physically assaulted; whether they were subject to use of force; whether they receive certain services such as recreation and showers, medical attention and phone calls.

The bill, Mr. Dromm made clear, was aimed at addressing the spikes of violence at Rikers Island. Recent reports faulted correction officers for assaulting inmates and placing them in solitary, which critics say is inhumane and does little to rehabilitate offenders. Mr. Dromm in particular has feuded with the powerful head of the correction officers union, Norman Seabrook.

Mr. Dromm and the council also passed a resolution calling on the Department of Correction to end the practice of placing people in solitary to complete “time owed”–punishment doled out to them during a previous stay in the jail system, but that they had not yet served for a variety of reasons. Mr. Dromm said the bill and resolution was inspired by a friend that was placed in solitary at Rikers Island.

While Mr. Seabrook has not wholeheartedly opposed the council’s efforts to increase transparency at Rikers Island, he has strongly defended correction officers and argued they need to be able to maintain order in an environment with dangerous and mentally unstable inmates. Just today, a spokesman for Mr. Seabrook blasted out a video to reporters depicting violent gang members at Rikers Island.

The City Council also passed bills that will increase disclosure requirements on campaign materials and amend how the Campaign Finance Board mails out voter guides. A bill that will give $42 million in public funds to private bus companies to hike the pay of their employees also passed the council, though several council members called the bill illegal and unconstitutional. School bus drivers went on strike last year after the Bloomberg administration demanded contract reforms to save city money.